Cubism was a revolutionary new approach to representing reality invented in around 1907/08 by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque who aimed to bring different views of subjects (usually objects or figures) together in the same picture, resulting in paintings that appear fragmented and abstracted

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  • Pablo Picasso, 'Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle' 1914
    Pablo Picasso
    Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle 1914
    Oil on canvas
    unconfirmed: 920 x 730 mm
    frame: 1279 x 1093 x 63 mm
    Lent by the National Gallery 1997© Succession Picasso/DACS 2002
  • Juan Gris, 'Bottle of Rum and Newspaper' 1913-4
    Juan Gris
    Bottle of Rum and Newspaper 1913-4
    Oil and canvas
    support: 460 x 370 mm
    frame: 647 x 555 x 67 mm
    Presented by Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler 1974, accessioned 1994
  • Georges Braque, 'Bottle and Fishes' circa 1910-2
    Georges Braque
    Bottle and Fishes circa 1910-2
    Oil on canvas
    © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2004
  • Jacques Lipchitz, 'Sculpture' 1915-16
    Jacques Lipchitz
    Sculpture 1915-16
    object: 980 x 280 x 180 mm
    Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery, Mrs Jack Steinberg and the Rayne Foundation 1982© The estate of Jacques Lipchitz, courtesy, Marlborough Gallery, New York
  • Robert Delaunay, 'Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif)' 1912
    Robert Delaunay
    Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif) 1912
    Oil on canvas
    support: 457 x 375 mm
    frame: 651 x 565 x 67 mm
    Purchased 1967
  • Pablo Picasso, 'Head of a Woman (Fernande)' 1909
    Pablo Picasso
    Head of a Woman (Fernande) 1909
    unconfirmed: 405 x 230 x 260 mm
    Lent from a private collection 1994© Succession Picasso/DACS 2002, courtesy Private Collection

Introduction to the cubist movement

Cubism was one of the most influential styles of the twentieth century. It is generally agreed to have begun around 1907 with Picasso’s celebrated painting Demoiselles D’Avignon which included elements of cubist style. The name ‘cubism’ seems to have derived from a comment made by the critic Louis Vauxcelles who, on seeing some of Georges Braque’s paintings exhibited in Paris in 1908, described them as reducing everything to ‘geometric outlines, to cubes’. 

Cubism opened up almost infinite new possibilities for the treatment of visual reality in art and was the starting point for many later abstract styles including constructivism and neo-plasticism.

How does it work?

By breaking objects and figures down into distinct areas or planes, the artists aimed to show different viewpoints at the same time and within the same space and so suggest their three dimensional form. In doing so they also emphasized the two-dimensional flatness of the canvas, instead of creating the illusion of depth. This marked a revolutionary break with the European tradition, which had dominated representation from the Renaissance onwards, of creating the illusion of real space from a fixed viewpoint using devices such as linear perspective.

What inspired cubist style?

Cubism was partly influenced by the late work of Paul Cézanne in which he can be seen to be painting things from slightly different points of view. Pablo Picasso was also inspired by African tribal masks which are highly stylised, or non-naturalistic, but nevertheless present a vivid human image. ‘A head’, said Picasso, ‘is a matter of eyes, nose, mouth, which can be distributed in any way you like’.

Types of cubism: Analytical vs. synthetic

Cubism can be seen to have developed in two distinct phases: the initial and more austere analytical cubism, and later phase of cubism known as synthetic cubism.

Georges Braque, 'Mandora' 1909-10
Georges Braque

Mandora 1909-10

Oil on canvas © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2004
Pablo Picasso, 'Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper' 1913
Pablo Picasso

Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper 1913

Collage and pen and ink on blue paper © Succession Picasso/DACS 2002
  • Analytical cubism ran from 1908–12. Its artworks look more severe and are made up of an interweaving of planes and lines in muted tones of blacks, greys and ochres.
  • Synthetic cubism is the later phase of cubism, generally considered to date from about 1912 to 1914, and characterised by simpler shapes and brighter colours. Synthetic cubist works also often include collaged real elements such as newspapers. The inclusion of real objects directly in art  was the start of one of the most important ideas in modern art.

Further reading

Picasso & Modern British Art
This exhibition, on display at Tate Britain in 2012, was a rare opportunity to see Picasso’s legacy and influence on British art. Read the room guide and see which works were on display.

This 1956 Tate exhibition guide provides an insight into the development of Braque’s work.

Cubism student resource
Although created with students in mind, our cubism student resource provides a useful introduction for anyone interested in finding out about cubist artists, ideas and techniques.

Cubist artists in focus: Picasso

Weeping Woman
Blog post which examines Picasso’s Weeping Woman with reference to his iconic work, Guernica.

Curator’s Talk: Picasso and Modern British Art
Listen to the curator of the 2012 Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition at Tate Britain, provide his persepective on the impact of Picasso’s work on British art.

Cubism in context

Watch curator Chris Stephens discussing what else was happening at the time in the art world around the time of cubism.

Fun, exotic and very modern
Cubist style was far-reaching in its influence. This Tate Etc. article explores the impact cubism, particularly the work of Juan Gris, had on artist Patrick Caulfield’s paintings – some fifty years after its emergence at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Other perspectives

In 2012 the English National Ballet were invited to Tate Britain to rehearse their new Ballet Russe season and to create new ballets inspired by Picasso’s work.

Cubism in detail

A Technical Study of Picasso’s Construction Still Life 1914
This paper explores Picasso’s approach to sculptural materials during the cubist years through a close examination of his 1914 construction Still Life.  

The Three Dancers: a look beneath the surface of Picasso’s paintings
Curator Helen Little joins conservator Annette King to get a closer look at The Three Dancers.

Matisse Picasso, Creating And Destroying Histories video recordings
Watch video recordings of this conference relating to the 2002 Matisse Picasso exhibition at Tate Modern and exploring the fascinating and intricate relationship between these two masters of modern art.

Cubism for kids

Tate Kids Cuboom game
Screenshot of Tate Kids Cuboom game

These blog post and game are a fun and simple way to introduce cubism to kids, whether in the classroom or at home.

Who is Pablo Picasso?
This Tate Kids blog post looks at Picasso’s most inconic works from his cubism period.

Kids will love the game Cuboom, where they will be transport to Paris in 1907.  

Related glossary terms

Analytical cubism, synthetic cubism, constructivism, orphism, neo-plasticism